There’s a very large and somewhat famous rock sitting in the Pine Barrens, next to County Route 539 in Lacey Township, New Jersey. According to local lore, the rock was left behind by a truck driver who had it off-loaded to fix a flat tire. Over the years, the rock was painted with a number of designs and became known as (sorry about this) the “Painted Rock”. Ba-dump-bump.
Shortly after the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11, a local artist began painting the rock with a stars and stripes pattern. Since then, it has become something of a shrine and attempts to paint it with other designs have always resulting in re-painting with the stars and stripes seen in my photo.
While I appreciate the patriotic zeal that has kept the rock painted with the stars and stripes, I do miss the more whimsical designs from the past. You can read more about the history of the Painted Rock and see some of the early designs here .
I love listening to katydids during warm summer evenings. In my suburban neighborhood, they are one of the few night-singing insects that seems to thrive. I took this phone-camera photo one morning as I was headed out to work. This is the first year I had tried to raise roses, so I paused for a moment to admire my handwork and noticed this fellow hanging out on a flower.
I really enjoy birding (or bird watching, if you like that term better). However, I had very little spare time to get outdoors and bird while I was completing my master’s degree. That changed a couple weeks ago and I took my first opportunity to visit a favorite spot – Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge includes an eight mile wildlife drive that, sadly, was mostly closed for repairs. However, there were still some really good birds along the parts that were open, including this very cooperative American Bittern.
In January I wrote about the controversy surrounding Pedals the Bear, an American Black Bear that walked upright because of it had severely damaged front paws. A Facebook group was raising funds and pressuring the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for permission to have the bear captured and relocated to a bear sanctuary in New York. For its part, NJDEP resisted the plan by pointing out that the bear was thriving, growing larger with each passing year.
And so Pedals remained in the wild, until (apparently) the first phase of bear hunting season in October. NJDEP announced that a number of bear with damaged or injured front paws were harvested during the first round of hunting season and, though unconfirmed, it appears likely that Pedals was among that group.
The media fallout was swift. A Google search for Pedals the Bear yields over 9,200,000 results. Yes – over “9 million” results from the apparent harvest of a single bear. The handful of articles I’ve read focus on the anger and loss of people who had transformed this upright walking bear from a wild animal into a symbol of man’s callous treatment of nature.
This week, I stumbled upon an article in The Christian Science Monitor that discussed the ongoing debate around Pedals, specifically, and New Jersey’s bear hunt, in general. Now, New Jersey has the most dense bear population in the continental United States, with about 3500 bear concentrated mostly in the northern and north-western parts of the state. So, after a nearly 30-year ban, hunting was re-instituted in 2003. The harvest target for 2016 is about 600 animals. As the second phase of bear season opened on Monday, some of these so-called “animal rights” activist were planning protests and looking for ways to disrupt the hunt.
For people who live in many rural areas, it may seem odd that opening day of hunting season could result in protests, people running through wooded areas banging on pots and pans or, in one extreme case, trying to shield a bear by running between the animal and a hunter. Can you imagine this type of protest in Texas or Montana or Alaska? But it happens here in New Jersey, pretty much every year.
Why do I care if these people protest against a bear hunt? I am deeply concerned about the natural world. Shouldn’t I be supporting and encouraging these types of protests?
The short answer is “No”.
I think that these types of protests provide cover for people who want to discredit the larger environmental movement. If environmentalist can be marginalized by corporate media as simply a bunch of people angry over legal activities like hunting, it takes away from legitimate and important debates about the loss or degradation of natural habitats through the encroachment of human communities, replacing forests and river floodplains with golf courses and shopping centers, and the impact of polluting streams with lawn fertilizers and pesticides.
I think it also adds to the feeling of disconnect between people in urban and rural areas. With every challenge we’re facing as a nation – jobs, healthcare, education, hunger, external wars and internal strife, the list goes on and on – a bunch of “environmental” people in New Jersey have lost their minds over a bear. At least that’s what corporate media would have you believe. Remember – 9 million hits on Google.
So what does this post have to do with my blog? I think it fits neatly into trying to understand how half the country views the other half. I think these smaller stories feed into a larger theme of the differences – the disconnect, if you will – between the coasts and the heartland.
Or maybe I’m just killing a bunch of electrons. Time will tell.
I’m an unapologetic Pee-wee Herman fan and especially enjoyed the comedic search for his beloved bike in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. In an exchange over the whether his bike was for sale, Pee-wee resorts to the juvenile phrase “I know you are, but what am I?” as a come-back line while trading insults with his nemesis Francis.
Sadly, it seems to me that our national political debate has degenerated to the level of Pee-wee’s argument with Francis. As a Democrat who most closely identifies with the Blue Dog Coalition and moderate Republicans (labeled RINOs by some in their own party), I am vexed by the hyper-partisan politics that dominate our country today. I strongly believe that the solution to any challenge is rarely (or never) found at either end of the political spectrum.
However, I have also fallen into a trap. Like the gradual, inexorable descent into an abyss, I have gravitated toward news outlets and political commentary that supported my world view and ignored or trivialized all others. Like millions of others (on both sides), I was caught off-guard by the results of our national election and left wondering how my country could have gone so far off the rails of common sense and decency. How could a man who, in my view, represents and caters to all the very worst traits of American culture rise to the most powerful office in land?
I’ve watched corporate media of all political bends as they spent hours and hours spinning the results this way and that, justifying their positions (and their very existence), and pointing accusing fingers in all directions. But these machinations are little more than junk food for political junkies – and I want more. I want to understand and challenge my own world views to better understand and appreciate the world views of those with whom I disagree. Without better understanding myself, I can I possibly understand them?
It was about three years ago when I was walking along this small lake in West Virginia, really no more than a pond fed from an old surface coal mine, that I decided to further my education and pursue a Master’s degree. Shear folly, of course, since I was well past the age that anyone should be entering graduate school, but still…..
After several weeks of web browsing and soul searching, I found a program in Environmental Policy and Management at American Public University and enrolled the same day. My first class started in June 2014 and, since then, I have read thousands of pages and written hundreds more on topics ranging from environmental law and ethics to restoration ecology and landscape planning. Nearly every weekend for the past 2 1/2 years has been consumed with reading government reports, scientific studies, and course textbooks while writing an 8 to 10 page paper on any number of topics.
Now I am nearing the end of my program. I have submitted my capstone thesis and, on Christmas day no less, I’ll receive my final grade. It’s been an amazing and thought-provoking experience that left me very little time to do other things, like writing this blog. Now that it’s over, I can’t wait to get back to exploring nature, bird watching, hiking and photography, and dropping by here from time to time to share my experiences.
One question I have been pondering is whether to stick with this old blog or construct a new one. For now, I think I’ll stay here. I have to prove to myself that I am willing to make the time to read and write. With so many false starts over the past couple years, it seems the prudent thing to do.
Oh yeah…the pond. It’s called Rockhouse Lake and has a Facebook page (where I found the photo). I sometimes go for walks there when I’m visiting my family.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Management – my next class starts tomorrow. Recent events in the local news involving an upright-walking bear have given me the opportunity to think about one of my most recent courses, environmental ethics, the learnings from which I attempt to apply to this topic.
Have you heard of the upright-walking bear in New Jersey? The bear has been dubbed “Pedals” by some local residents and sightings of the bear have resulted in the establishment of social media pages, YouTube videos, fundraisers and media coverage. From the information available through these sources, the bear has experienced injuries which resulted in the loss of one front paw and very limited use of the other front paw (accounts vary on the bear’s ability to use either front paw).
I became aware of this bear several week’s ago after receiving requests for information and assistance through a social media page I maintain (for a group of volunteer naturalists). Since then, I have learned that the bear has survived either two or three winters (again, accounts vary) in this condition and is being monitored by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
There are at least two Facebook groups which devote considerable time to discussing the bear – one which wants to “rescue” the bear and deliver it to a sanctuary in New York and another which wants the bear “left alone”. For me, this is the significant ethical issue associated with this animal – should the bear be rescued, placed (essentially) into protective custody, and tended to by wildlife rehabilitators or should it be left in the wild?
When faced with an injured wild animal, I think most reasonable people would agree that there are three courses of action available to wildlife managers (like the good folks at NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife) – no intervention, treatment, or euthanasia.
Thus far, the folks in Fish and Wildlife have opted for the “no intervention” approach. However, is that the proper choice? In their essay Ethics of Interventions for the Welfare of Free-Living Wild Animals, J.K. Kirkwood and A.W. Sainsbury (1996) of the Zoological Society of London provide one possible framework for considering this question. According to Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996), the three choices (taken from the text of their essay) could be defined as:
(a) No intervention: If the animal is likely to recover without treatment, and if treatment would be an unjustifiable added stress, then there is no case for intervention.
(b) Euthanasia: If the animal is unlikely to recover, is judged to be in pain or distress and cannot be treated, then euthanasia is justifiable on welfare grounds.
(c) Treatment: There are two situations where treatment is justifiable on welfare grounds. The first is if an animal is likely to recover without treatment but its welfare is better served by treating than by not treating (e.g., by reducing the time to recovery). The second is if the animal is unlikely to recover without treatment and treatment (and subsequent management and release) can be accomplished with relatively little stress.
So, it would appear, Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996) agree that there are situations where treatment of wild animals is justified on welfare grounds (emphasis added). The factors which could be used to justify treatment of a wild animal include 1) the extent to which humans are responsible for the injury, 2) the extent to which the animal is under management and control (e.g., living in a wildlife management area vs. living in an uncontrolled environment), 3) the degree of “perceived suffering”, and 4) other cultural and economic factors such as the animals conservation status (e.g., endangered vs. common) or popularity (e.g., baby seal vs. common rat) (Kirkwood & Sainsbury, 1996).
From the available public information, I have not been able to determine the cause of the bear’s injuries and, from all accounts, it is free ranging (moving from wooded areas to suburban areas at will). Is the animal suffering? While no one can say with certainty that the animal is (or is not) experiencing pain, it does appear to be flourishing – it has reportedly gained significant weight recently and has survived at least two severe winter seasons under its current condition. Finally, black bear are not considered an endangered species under either the U.S. or New Jersey laws.
So what does this leave us?
As Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996) observed, popularity is a completely illogical consideration when deciding how best to deal with an injured wild animal, but it is one of the most powerful factors in influencing public opinion. So what should be done? For myself, I am in the “leave the bear alone” camp and agree with the position of NJ Fish and Wildlife that the bear should not be removed from its wild environment as long as it continues to flourish (e.g., gains weight, remains mobile, exhibits no obvious signs of physical suffering).
There are a number of people who disagree with that position. However, I would challenge those folks to really think their reasoning behind wanting this bear removed from the wild. Would there the Facebook pages, media articles, fundraisers, and public debate if “Pedals” was a common Norway rat (like those found sewers and subway systems around the world)? What other animals should be singled out for special treatment? Why? And, perhaps most importantly, who gets to decide?
If you would like to read the Kirkwood and Sainsbury essay, you can find it by following this link or through this reference:
Kirkwood, J. & Sainsbury, A. (1996). Ethics of interventions for the welfare of free-living wild animals. Animal Welfare, 5, 235-243.
What do you think? Should “Pedals” be removed from the wild and placed in an animal sanctuary because of his injured front paws? Should the bear be left alone? These are difficult questions which everyone should decide for themselves.
One note of caution – the comments on social media about this situation have often resulted in name calling and flaming among the participants. While I encourage you to comment, please keep the posts civil and on topic. I reserve the right to delete any post which, in my opinion, does not adhere to my request (without regard to the position taken by the commenter).